Naga Panchami

Nāga Panchami is a Hindu festival organized in almost every part of India. According to the Hindu lunar calendar the festival is held on Panchami (the fifth day or "tithi" of the fortnight or "paksha") in Shravan (Shravanam) month. In the Gregorian calendar it is July and August. In 2014 the festival is held on the 1st of August.

During the festival people honour Nāga Devata (Cobras). Five nagas are worshipped - Ananta, Vāsuki, Taxak, Karkotaka and Pingala. There is a Puranic myth stating that Brahma’s son Kashyapa had four wives.

First one gave birth to Devas, second to Garudas, third to Nāgas and fourth to Daityas. Kashyapa's third wife was Kadroo. That is why Nāgas are also called Kadroojā. They ruled in Pātāl-Loka ("Nether world").

The skin of a snake is covered with scales. Whole outer layer of skin is shed in one layer. This process is called ecdysis or in more common language moulting. Because of cyclical repeating of the process Hindu people believe that snakes are immortal.

The famous temple honouring snakes is in the city of Mysuru (Mysore) located in the state of Karnataka in the south of India. The temple is at the place called Subramania. Subramania is also the name of a giant snake that Lord Vishnu reclined when sleeping in the sea. This snake is mentioned in many Indian folk stories.

People go to temples and snake pits and they worship the snakes. People offer milk and silver jewelry to the Cobras. They believe that they keep them from evil. Sometimes people put little pot with milk and some flowers next to a hole where snakes live. On Naga Panchami people also fast.

Lord Krishna and Kalia
Lord Krishna fighting snake Kalia

Naga Panchami is the day when Lord Krishna beat the snake Kalia who fell from a tree into the river Yamuna. After the big fight Kalia asked for mercy. The Lord Krishna let the snake go but the snake had to promise not to bother people anymore. On the day of Naga Panchami Lord Krishna is known as "Kaliya Mardan".

On Naga Panchami married women visit their parents. Farmers never plough their fields during Naga Panchami. Why? There is a legend that one farmer while ploughing his field accidentally killed some young snakes.

To punish the farmer mother of those snakes killed him and his family. But she made one exception. One of farmer's daughters survived. She was praying to the Nāgas. Because of her devotion the rest of family was brought to life again.

On the day of festival special figures of snakes can be seen on walls of houses. Women made them by using a mixture of black powder, cow dung and milk. After that women make offerings of milk, ghee (clarified butter used in cooking), water and rice. It is believed that because of these acts people living in the house won't be bitten by snake.

Maharashtra is third largest state in India. It is located in the west of country. Local snake charmers go from house to house carrying tamed snakes. They get some offerings including clothes.

Kerala is a state located in the southwest of India. People there visit temples with metal icons of the cosmic snake called Ananta or Sesha. Many homes in Kerala have altars with a silver or copper cobra. Offerings of milk and sweets are put at the altar. People pray for the welfare of their children and prosperity in general.

Punjab is the state in the northwest of India. The state borders with the province on same name located in neighbouring Pakistan. People in Punjab honour snakes in the festival called Guga Naumi which is organized in September and October.

People make a snake of dough and put it in a basket. They carry the snake through the village. People in each house give some flour and butter as an offering. The dough snake is then buried.

Goddess Manasa
Goddess Manasa

People in West Bengal and parts of Assam and Orissa worship the goddess Manasa. She is the sister of Vasuki, king of Nāgas and wife of sage Jagatkāru (Jaratkāru). It is believed that she helps in case of snakebite and also in matters of fertility and prosperity.

In parts of southern India, people use red sandalwood paste to draw figures of snakes on wooden boards. Special clay sculptures of snakes, painted yellow or black, can be purchased. These sculptures are worshipped. Milk offerings are given.